KISS are on their Final Tour Ever. Dubbed “End Of The Road”, as of this writing the first leg is done in the U.S. Next week they begin the second leg in Europe.
I have written about their storied career here to voice my appreciation as a listener and fan. Not every detail is included since there are books, articles, and tons of fodder on YouTube for people to consume. The cultural impact of the group was massive. Here now my entry about them.
The streets of New York were filthy in the 197o’s. The Beatles had just broken up. Millions of rock music fans were left feeling the loss of an entire era. The 1960s provided a ton of artists that were critical darlings. The Vietnam war was still grinding forward. What would happen next?
From those filthy streets in a declining city four young men were practicing music who enacted their wildest dreams of becoming part of a band. Stanley Eisen from Queens, Chaim Weiss raised in Tel Aviv then Brooklyn, Paul Frehley of The Bronx, and Peter Crisscoula of Brooklyn found each other by ads placed in the papers.
Each of these young people had experience playing music live. They shared a love of The Beatles. The love generation was about to give way to the more agressive love gun generation. The term heavy metal was not yet applicable. Their music was a new sound. Their names would be changed too. Chaim Weiss became Gene Simmons. Stanley Eisen became Paul Stanley. Paul Frehely used his nickname Ace because these guys just knew you could not have two Pauls in the same group. And Peter shortened his name from Crisscoula to Criss.
The gritty early 70’s was a culture of worn down clubs, high crime, and low rents. This culture fostered artists. Gene and Paul had a band called Wicked Lester. They had created a sound that was edgy and raw. Simple chords like the rock n roll of past times with heavier bass and loud electric guitars. Starting over they put ads in the Village Voice. Guitarist with flash and balls; Drummer willing to do anything to make it.
Peter Criss claimed he would wear a dress if necessary. Ace Frehley came in, plugged into an amp and let it rip without asking for anyone’s permission. He famously wore mismatched sneakers and looked, in Gene’s opinion, like a bum. Both of these guys were hired. They rehearsed tirelessly in a loft space infested with vermin.
One of the reasons I love them was their absolute determination to make something special. They were never handed anything. Everything happened because of the blood, sweat, and tears put into the development of their act.
With songs from Gene and Paul’s Wicked Lester days plus new material along with some covers the newly named, Kiss, would record their self-titled debut album in just 13 days with producer Richie Wise. The band’s make-up would put off their record company so much that Warner Bros dislodged Casablanca from the company!
The name was derived from Peter Criss’s former group, Lips. Paul Stanley by way of word association thought Kiss would work. Their songs were mainly about sex. Short and easy to remember too. Ace Frehley drew the logo all in caps; Paul Stanley later refined it with extra lines to highlight each letter. In Germany to this day the logo appears without the lightning bolts. That double s caused a lot of reaction for obvious reasons. I think they took back the infamy of this symbolism. The logo projected the power of their music and their image. Today, the name is known around the globe.
Kiss’ first record sold 75,000 copies in 1974. 10 songs with a running time of 30 minutes without a hit single. During a year that included, The Rolling Stones’ “It’s Only Rock N Roll” and Queen’s “Killer Queen” as well as Eric Clapton’s cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff”, Kiss was a shock to the system. In make-up on the cover in a similar layout to their heroes, The Beatles, this image was received by critics as not a rock group but a circus act.
On the first record, “Deuce” by Gene Simmons opened their shows. The lyrics were quite purile by any standard. Raw rock music. At a point in time when singer/songwriters like Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell were peaking, the culture at large was revolted by Kiss.
“Strutter” by Paul Stanley was about streetwalkers. “Cold Gin” by Ace Frehley was about liquor saving a relationship. These tracks set the stage for concert tours. The next 2 records, “Hotter Than Hell” and “Dressed To Kill” did not set the world on fire either. But the Stanley/Simmons rock anthem, “Rock and Roll All Nite” did break the top ten and placed Kiss in the limelight they had been pursuing for years. Then KISS became rock’s next big thing.
At every live show they are introduced with the following:
Alright ________ (fill in the city/town they are playing), You wanted the best, you got the best, the hottest band in the world…KISS!!!
From then on they were known to their peers in this manner. Quite a feat for an act many had written off as pure novelty just a few years earlier. I think they were probably the first real hard rock group to make it. Alice Cooper had a make-up image too. By the time KISS hit it big, Alice was solo. His act was so different Frank Zappa took an interest. Like Alice, they were inspired by horror movies and comic books. The four guys came up with unique designs. Then came a youthquake across America.
Alive! was the band’s first live concert album recorded on the Dressed To Kill tour in Detroit, Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio, Davenport, Iowa and Wildwood, New Jersey. Including the best tracks from the first 3 albums this record did set the world on fire.
Kiss became the top selling rock band in America. Revulsing parents only added to their popularity amoung teenagers of the time. They thought it was the end of Western civilization but it was the beginning of hard rock music. Sure, Black Sabbath brought metal before it had a name and Alice Cooper took shock rock to a new level, but Kiss developed as a hard rock quartet. Even Alice recognized how unique their image had become in comparison to his own. Both artists would continue for the next 30 years.
Producer Bob Ezrin then took Kiss’ superstardom to new heights recording the album “Destroyer”. The songs “Detroit Rock City” and “King of the Nightime World” showed their skills as songwriters and musicians. The record sounds contemporary to this day. “Beth” was the soft side of the group, a ballad, that became their biggest hit. It provided the inspiration for future acts like Motley Crue and Poison to record what came to be known as power ballads in the 1980s glam metal era.
After proving their metal the band offered their new army an array of goodies. Many of their records had extras inside like posters, merchandise order booklets, temporary tattoos, and stickers. This provided more fuel for those who saw them as a passing fad.
Manager Bill Aucoin recognized how much cultural capital the band had earned with their make-up and costumes. He insisted they license their image. And then came the flood of goodies. Mego toys produced dolls, Thermos made lunchboxes, and there were transistor radios, a toy guitar, a phonograph player, and even a colorforms set. I never had any of these items during their heyday. I would indulge later on during the 1990s. Ads were place on television for the toys and concerts. The increasing cost of their shows was covered not only by ticket sales but merchandise. Fans were mostly pleased to openly display their support.
Throughout the 1970s KISS would appear on daytime shows like Mike Douglas and primetime specials like The Paul Lynde Halloween Special. I saw these programs as a kid. I was spellbound by their sound and image.
Their live show included explosions, flashpots, and a sign above the stage that flashed their logo in blinding lights. A new era had arrived. This music that became hard rock was then known as glam or glitter rock. I never got to see and hear them live until after this period.
The band took pride in selecting up and coming bands they felt their fans would like including Rush, Van Halen, and Cheap Trick. These artists are still among my favorite groups.
Gene and Paul’s vision was a band they never saw onstage but wanted to see themselves. A heavy metal version of The Beatles was their intention. I think they delivered despite not being critical darlings or chart toppers.
They never stopped facing adversity. Gene and Paul developed a relationship with their fans. They listened to producers in studio that wanted them to work using different methods to refine the music. However much success they earned the toughest period was their transition from the 1970s to the 1980s.
In an effort to keep the band together KISS released 4 solo albums all at once in 1978. Each album had that member’s face on the cover along with the KISS logo and their name. Each member dedicated their album to the other three guys in the group. A poster came with each album. When all 4 posters were pieced together it formed a full- color mural of the group as superheros. The 4 records shipped platinum. Only the guitarist and singer Ace Frehley would score a top 40 hit with “New York Groove”.
However, each record expressed that member’s individual musical style. Personal beliefs also played a part. On Gene’s album, for example, he ends with a cover of “When You Wish Upon A Star”. The song was written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington for Walt Disney’s 1940 adaptation of Pinocchio. It became a Jazz standard and an icon of The Disney Company.
The 4 Solo Albums drove a wedge between the members of the group.
Instead of unifying them, they were driven farther apart.
“Music From The Elder” then saw them try to create a ‘serious’ prog rock concept album. There was going to be a movie Starring Chris Makepeace (“My Bodyguard” and “Meatballs”). The story took place in a medieval setting. A boy who sets out to destroy a dark knight. In so doing he becomes a champion. A complete departure from the rock basics it became the most derided effort among fans to this day. The film was never made either.
So they went back into the studio to record what would become their 10th record, “Creatures of the Night”, their last for Casablanca. The label’s head, Neil Bogart died of cancer. The band would dedicate this album to him. After all he was one of the first people to really believe in them.
The “Creatures” album was also the final record in make-up until “Psycho Circus” in 1998. The lackluster performance of their previous 2 efforts had people speculating they would disband. Fans reacted positively to the ballad “I Still Love You”, the anthem “I Love It Loud” also a video on the new cable network MTV. Their tours took a big dip at this time. New drummer Eric Carr in Fox make-up and lead guitarist Vinnie Vincent in Ankh make-up drove old fans away. Peter and Ace faced substance abuse issues that cost them their place in the group.
There were half empty arenas. The times were changing. New wave music was rising. There were new groups who benefitted from MTV. Like KISS before them some of the new artists were accused of being all image too.
But they survived these lows because newer fans like myself wanted to hear and see them. Our parent’s disapproval only pushed us furthur in our support. Kiss did not need to have a #1 hit. Each tour was unique. The records had to remain heavy. Even their album “Dynasty” with its disco number “I Was Made For Lovin You” was a hit worldwide. This success led to the lighter “Unmasked” lp. “Shandi”, a ballad that seemed to be a follow-up to “Beth”, was a big hit in Australia.
My first encounter with them was their 1978 release “Rock N Roll Over”. A tight set of hard rock tracks that I still love today. To this day I will listen to albums from the 70s like “Destroyer”, “Love Gun”, and “Alive!”. Their 1980s output was my entry into their world. Arenas filled with my peers who just wanted to rock out. By the time the first 10 years were over Kiss had never stopped having to prove themselves.
I listened to every counter argument leveled at Kiss: they had no talent, their name stood for Knights in Satan’s Service, they were Nazis, they were gay, they were clowns and were only in it for a buck. Oh, yes, their only popular because of the image.
Then Kiss did something no one had ever expected them to do . On MTV in 1983 the band appeared for the first time without the make-up. I did not see this press conference. I discovered this new Kiss when I went to my local record shop.
“Lick It Up”, their 11th studio album, featured Vincent on lead guitars. He co-wrote the album with the exception of two songs written by Gene Simmons. This proved to be a promising start to a new era of Kiss. Their years on Casablanca were over; Mercury was the new label.
The cover was literally a clean slate. A white background with a full color image of the band . I remember how confused I felt when I first laid my eyes on it. No Ace; No Peter. The logo was just a bold outline, small, in the upper left corner. The only other tell-tale sign that it was Kiss was Gene sticking out his tounge! This was a tough period for them.
Ironically, the MTV launch in late summer 1981, helped Kiss reinvent themselves. The music videos for “Lick It Up” and “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose” received heavy airplay. I embraced the new music. I would not see them live until the late 80s.
Although Gene and Paul are not that fond of their post 1977 output their sound influenced the 80s hard rock scene. Cheap Trick’s anthem “Surrender” even mentions the band by name. Motley Crue, Poison, Van Halen, Skid Row, Ratt, Bon Jovi, and many others performed what became known as Glam Metal. Their shows emulated Kiss with big pyrotechnic spectacles.
I finally saw them for the first time on their “Asylum” tour. Vinnie Vincent was long gone. Bruce Kulick was now their lead guitarist. I was studying communications in college at the time. I came across the attributes that define strong groups. The ability to change members was an attribute that stood out for me. Kiss kept going through changes and survived. Some of the records they released would be more appreciated as the years passed.
I would see them several times on various tours. Kiss did World Tours. During the 80’s their make-up related merchandise vanished as well. Only at shows could you get a program and a shirt. Their albums continued to sell too. The only image of The Demon was on the body of Gene’s custom bass. There were always fans who showed up at concerts in full Kiss make-up too.
Kiss released “Animalize” in 1984, “Asylum” in 1985, “Crazy Nights” in 1987, and “Hot In The Shade” in 1989. There was a tour for each. And music videos were produced for MTV. This enabled them to stay around until their resurgence in the mid-1990s. You can look up information about the videos and chart positions. The biggest commercial hit they had since “Beth” was another ballad. “Forever” written by Michael Bolton and Paul Stanley peaked on Billboard at #8. The video reached #1 on Dial MTV thanks to fans. The last 2 records of the decade found Kiss using keyboards, synths, and drum machines. Then came the 1990s.
I saw Kiss twice on their Hot In The Shade Tour. Opening act Slaughter were the latest in a long line of popular groups to get their first national audience at the arena level thanks to Kiss. The show featured a Sphinx whose mouth opens up to reveal the band. Laser lights were also featured effects. The set included songs from the 1970s era too! The rumors of them appearing in make up again were fueled by the music video for the song “Rise To It” which shows Gene and Paul in make-up for a brief moment at the end of the clip.
During their Madison Sq Garden show I caught a Gene Simmons guitar pick and Eric Carr’s drumsticks! I was 6th row center on the floor. The shows were great.
The early 1990s were cruel to hard rock groups and their fans. The labels that had signed Twisted Sister, Motley Crue, Guns N Roses, Warrant, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, and Kiss were starting to move in a new direction. The new decade brought the groups Nirvana and Pearl Jam; Soundgarden and Faith No More. Glam metal died. The new sound became known as Grunge.
Then in 1991 Kiss’ longtime drummer Eric Carr died from heart cancer. His death happened on the same day as Freddie Mercury of Queen! Kiss were again at a transformative point in their career. Another Eric would become the next member of Kiss. And producer Bob Ezrin would work with them again for the first time since the failure of “The Elder” album.
1992’s “Revenge” became the band’s most succesful since 1979’s “Dynasty”. And had the most music videos of any Kiss release. After years of pop infused hard rock the group returned to their more primal 70s sound. Before the arena dates the group performed in a New York City club for a sold out standing-room only crowd. No make-up; No pyro. Just 2 solid hours of their hits. This was one of the best concerts I have ever seen!
Then the group took another unexpected turn by accepting an invitation to record a special for the MTV series Unplugged. This would prove to be the most pivotal event in the band’s storied career.
In 1995 at Sony Studios in New York City the members of Kiss would perform their songs on acoustic guitars. During the show they spoke about the development of the songs too. Then came the surprise. Ace and Peter came out to perform with them for the first time since the end of the 70s dynasty. The stage was set for their official reunion!
Even a reunion of the original band had its adverse results. Although overlooked by many older fans, the unmasked line-up featuring Bruce Kulick on lead guitar was reaching a creative peak with Revenge in 1992 then came an album that got lost.
Following their Revenge World Tour the group returned to the studio. The band once again took another departure from their hard rock sound with “Carnival Of Souls”. I loved this record. The biggest price paid for the reunion was the loss of this album as a tour.
When the reunion happened they shelved this record. Fans started to get a hold of bootleg versions of this album. The band released it with the title, “Carnival Of Souls: The Final Sessions”. This was Bruce Kulick’s final appearance as a member of KISS. He got his first lead vocal performance on the last track of the set, “I Walk Alone”. Eric Singer, the drummer would not return to the band until 2006.
The following year became their biggest. The Alive Worldwide Tour of 1996 featured the original line-up in make-up with a production inspired by their set for the Love Gun Tour in 1977. Nearly 20 years had passed but when they put the greasepaint on they were young again. And the KISS Army made this tour the most successful of that year.
I went to a group of shows during the tour. The Madison Square Garden concerts were spectacular. For the first time I saw and heard what made KISS so special upon arriving in the turmoil of the 1970s. The songs they brought back into their set included “King Of The Nightime World” and “C’mon and Love Me”. The crowd was the most electric I have ever witnessed. All of the old fans came back to see them too.
This period was a time where the band could feel good about themselves. Even critical reaction was favorable. The waters would get rough again but the group was resilient and nothing would stop them. “Psycho Circus” would be the first make-up album since “Dynasty” to feature Peter And Ace. “Into The Void” is the only track they played on fully. The problems of the old days were returning to bite them again in 1998.
The songs were a love letter to their devotees. During the recording sessions the old problems resurfaced. Other musicians aided the effort to get the album finished. They released a video for the title track in 3-D. The tour would be billed as the first ever done in 3-D too. Then came a hevy period of touring all the places they had not been to for awhile including Europe and Australia. Gene and Paul would invest in ventures outside the rock world like their restaurant Rock N Brews. Arena football, a mini-golf in Vegas, and extending the KISS brand to an array of products that would bring them into their penultimate era.
In 2003 the group toured for the final time with its classic original line-up. A lot of fans misunderstood the farewell tour headline. They were laying to rest this reunion era. The band would not record again until 2009’s Sonic Boom. The next line-up would be their last. The make-up would never come off again. Fans got what they wanted in 1996; Gene and Paul got what they wanted the rest of the way.
Music is a business. I feel strongly that to stay around you need to develop a fan base with pretty consistent albums. KISS built a strong foundation during the 1970s. With the help of session musicians, managers like Bill Aucoin who nurtured their image, and the songwriting skills of the members themselves, they have survived in this business for alomost 50 years.
Without releasing another record there were a lot of concerts. The band reached New Zealand and Chile for the first time. It was also their most extensive tour of Europe. Their Sonic Boom was literally heard around the globe. Since 1998’s Psycho Circus they went 11 years without recording. “Sonic Boom” was the first with Tommy Thayer on guitar and Eric Singer returned as drummer. Both had lead vocals on the record. And they wore the trademark make-up of Ace and Peter.
In 2012 KISS released their 20th album, “Monster”. This has now been realised as their final release. It reached #2 on Billboard, their highest chart position ever. The set spelled it out one last time what Kiss were all about. “Hell Or Hallelujah”, “Freak”, “Wall Of Sound”, and “All For The Love Of Rock N Roll” are amoung my favorite songs.
Gene Simmons has become a business guy not ashamed to hawk products he believes in. Paul Stanley has been exhibiting his paintings. Their partnership has lasted 45 years and counting. The final tour is expected to run for the next 3 years.
All I know about them has led me to think there are more surprises to come. I have been fortunate enough to have met most of the members of KISS. I was present aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid when they announced the reunion tour. I have attended 12 concerts.
In August I will see my 13th and final Kiss show. In the end I have many great memories. And there are 20 studio albums and 4 Alive! albums to enjoy whenever I need a jolt of their energy.
Here are my favorite KISS albums and songs:
100,000 Years (Simmons/Stanley)………….KISS (1974)
Rock N Roll All Nite (Simmons/Stanley)….Dressed To Kill (1975)
God Of Thunder (Stanley)……………………….Destroyer (1976)
Sweet Pain (Simmons)…………………………….Destroyer (1976)
Beth (Criss, Penridge, Ezrin)…………………..Destroyer (1976) Lead Vocals by Peter Criss
Shock Me (Frehley)…………………………………..Love Gun (1977) Lead Vocals by Ace Frehley
Hooligan (Criss, Penridge)………………………..Love Gun (1977) Lead Vocals by Peter Criss
Love Gun (Stanley)…………………………………..Love Gun (1977)
I Was Made For Lovin’ You (Stanley, Vini Poncia, Desmond Child)….Dynasty (1979)
Magic Touch (Stanley)………………………………Dynasty (1979)
Talk To Me (Frehley)………………………………..Unmasked (1980)
Two Sides Of The Coin (Frehley)………………..Unmasked (1980)
Only You (Simmons)…………………Music from The Elder (1981) Vocals by Simmons & Stanley
I (Simmons, Ezrin)……………………Music from The Elder (1981)
Rock N Roll Hell (Simmons, Bryan Adams, Jim Vallance)…..Creatures Of The Night (1982)
Lick It Up (Stanley, Vincent)……………………..Lick It Up (1983)
Heaven’s On Fire (Stanley, Child)………………Animalize (1984)
King Of The Mountain (Stanley, Kulick, Child)…..Asylum (1985)
Tears Are Falling (Stanley)……………………………….Asylum (1985)